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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Blank page

The blank page - something I long for incessantly, then feel dread the moment I face it.  
Do I measure up? Am I worthwhile? Did I make a mistake?  
All this navel gazing is giving me a neck ache.  
I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. 
If I write, I feel presumptuous. It’s already been said much better.  
If I don’t write, this fire in my belly turns into heartburn.  
I can’t run from a calling. 
I can’t deem myself called.  
People believe in me, but I wish they wouldn’t.  
I suppose they think they are doing me a favor, always encouraging me to live up to my potential.  
What I’d really like is to be put in my place.  
If someone would just tell me that I’m nothing special, I could go back to the peaceful partition of the ordinary.  
Success these days comes seems to only come with a carefully constructed promotional package, and I’m not into that.  
Why should I be?  
This country has enough ego to stretch out and circle the globe a dozen times, I think. 
Then again, if I was put on this Earth with a design, if calling is real, then who am I to fight it? 
I remember a time when I felt sure that a spirit was leading me down a certain path.  
If I were to listen to that spirit today, it would tell me that I’m on a detour right now – this social work degree is pulling me away from the real work I’m called to do.  
I’m not sure I believe in calling.  
This Spirit that has never led me astray, is she a figment of my imagination? 
I’m not sure I am allowed to deem myself called.  
It’s better to have a backup plan, anyway. 
I am addicted to the freefall.  
I moved to China, left the security of the SBC, and started school smack dab in the middle of a state I never planned to live in. 
I have no delusions, I know security is an illusion. 
And yet.  
What else is there? 
I’m too tired for adventure, to full of wanderlust to settle. 
Too religious to ignore this still small voice. 
My soul too world wizened to believe in the fairy tale ending. 
Mostly, too small minded to think anything more is possible.  
Especially from a dog like me.

An aside from sermon prep

I love it so much that I avoid it. That's completely normal, right? Brene Browne would say that I'm afraid of losing it, so I sabotage myself. Enneagram gurus say that it's my number – 9 – that makes me afraid of such strong emotion. 
What I'm speaking of here is my love for studying a biblical text (or anything, really – it could be a piece of art, a memory, an aspect of nature, a poem or story) until it comes apart and reincarnates as something deeper, more powerful, or at the very least applicable to my life. It makes me feel alive. Just now, I was studying Acts 1:1-11. I'm trying to learn to navigate "The text this week" and the Vanderbilt library's online resources. I don't know why. For my own edification, I guess. I have dual fears – one that I'm not a worthy vessel, which is a spiritual way to say that I'm afraid I’m not good enough to be a spiritual leader or teacher in any sort of vocational way. I might really embarrass myself if I ever presume to have what it takes to do that job. I'll only briefly mention my ongoing battle with presuppositions about my gender – my own and those in general society – that feed this insecurity monster. What if I say I'm called, but no one else believes it? 
This aforementioned fear is the equal and opposite contender of the next one – fear that I am actually gifted and called. What a burden, this responsibility to use my gift, to lead others. To put myself out there knowing that I have no other option but to lay myself bare and open myself up to all kinds of criticism. To get it wrong again and again, publicly. How does one steward a call? What is a call? Is it the burden of the privileged because, after all, most of humankind has been called to stay alive and work so that her family and community could survive, as well. Perhaps, as usual, I'm taking the thing I cannot know – my calling and vocation (v 7) - and making it my sole focus when what I should actually do is wait patiently and then do the thing I can know (serve and love those within my proximity, while developing my love for study and writing as a source of sustenance and sanity for myself, a way to know God. If I have an opportunity to share this source, then I am called to do so). ***end of aside***

Doubter's anonymous

Doubter's Anonymous 
This story is a midrash, and falls into the space between verses 25 and 26 in John Chapter 20. 
Day 1 - Hi, My name's Thomas, and I'm a doubter. I've been a doubter for one day now, and the last time I doubted was....well...I have to say, I'm still active in my doubting. I don't want to feel and think this way, I just can't help myself. I want to believe. At least I think I do. Sometimes I do. Here, let me just tell you my story and let you tell me how I can find peace. 
You see, Sunday night I was at home taking a nap while the other ten were hiding out at John's house. We were all afraid, and I turn into a homebody when I'm stressed. Anyways, everyone else was hiding out together behind locked doors and feeling generally hopeless. And get this – the next thing they knew, Jesus was there. Right there, in the flesh. Alive and well. Ridiculous, right? We all saw it. He was dead. Well, according to them, he's alive again and has put the very power of God within each one of them. I want to believe them. After all, they are my friends, and it would be so much simpler to stay part of the team. 
Day 3 I feel afraid. What is wrong with me? Everyone else has seen him, and the excitement in their voices betrays their certainty. My Jesus. I miss him so much more than them, because they are absolutely convinced that he is alive, and I am sure that he is not. We all saw him, he was bleeding out. They stabbed him through the ribs and I hear that sickening rip of his flesh in my dreams. Maybe the trauma was just too much for everyone else. To be honest, I envy them. I think I would prefer delusional and happy over knowing the truth and being alone, traumatize and shattered like this. What do I do now? They want to go spreading the news of Jesus' resurrection, but I can't. 
Maybe I could play along. It would be a compromise, sure, but a lot of Jesus' teachings were about love and service and self-sacrifice. He made everyone feel like a full citizen, and his 
talk of this new kingdom was quite inspiring, if not a little empty now. That's it. I'll pretend I saw him, then I can go on that speaking tour with the others. No one will ever have to know. It'll be our secret. It's a big lie, but I could do a lot of good with it, I think. 
Day 5 Ok, I almost convinced myself that I saw him. It was around the third hour yesterday, and I was alone in an alley, on my way to the market. I saw someone sitting on the ground about 20 cubits away. I stopped in my tracks. Could it be him? I really, really wanted to see him. I wanted to stop feeling isolated from my brothers and sisters who had also followed Jesus. I wanted to stop feeling like there was something wrong with me. I squinted my eyes, tilted my head, and held my breath. I started to feel dizzy, and I think I heard a voice say "believe in me." That could have been him, right? The next thing I knew, I was lying in the dirt and he was gone. For a while, I thought I had the Spirit of God in me, but today I feel like I just passed out from holding my breath...PAUSE... I don't know why the others think they are so special for believing. They got to see him (If he really did appear, that is.) They have to remember - they thought Mary was crazy when she told her story of seeing Christ. Until they saw him, too. Sometimes I blame myself, and sometimes I blame Jesus. Why wasn't I there? Was I lazy? I know I have a tendency to shut everyone out when I'm upset, and it had been a traumatic few weeks. However, if Jesus is so powerful that he can raise himself from the dead, walk through walls and instill the very Spirit of God with just a breath, why is he purposely excluding me? This is excruciating. I'm angry. I'm in grief. 
Day 6: Ok, here is where I stand. I had a long, honest talk with the others, and they apologized for ostracizing me. I confessed to trying to fabricate a vision just to make my life easier. My fate is sealed: I am a doubter. I'm also now willing to concede that, delusional or not, the other disciples are the most loyal friends I've ever had. I've agreed to go eat dinner with them 
tomorrow. I don't know what the coming days will bring for me, but I plan to take it one day at

A Christmas Party - an essay on living in a cohousing community

Our manager hired a friend from Church to provide us with live music. Nigel was playing the saxophone in the foyer, along with some friends he brought to make up a band. Inside this centenarian home, with the music and the candles and the neighbors, it was one of those moments that you feel nostalgic for even when you're in it, like you know you're going to miss it when it's gone. It was a little too loud, if we're being honest, but one must accept the forcefulness of the magic sometimes. That's what the evening was, a few hours of magic to help us remember why we love each other. All families need that kind of reminder once in a while, as we tend to forget all of the good stuff in the day week after week bumping in to one other. We'd made it through another year together, to the next Christmas party. We gained a few new neighbors, and lost one or two who had moved on for various reasons. For the most part, though, we were the same ragtag bunch from last year.  
I live in a Christian co-housing community. It's called "The Ark," and I honestly don't know the story of the name, but I suppose it has to do with Noah's ark from the Old Testament. Most of us have come here looking for refuge from various storms. We're a diverse group, and that's not by accident, as diversity among any community does not come without a certain degree of intentionality. It's written into the bylaws, and as we interview potential new neighbors we prioritize based upon, among other things, what the community is lacking in age, gender, and ethnicity or cultural background. Some of us have graduate degrees, and some of us have GED's. Some of us grew up with all of our physical needs met, while some of us have spent time living on the streets. Sometimes it's complicated trying to see eye-to-eye when we all traveled here on such vastly different roads. We do have a few things in common, and that helps. We are all professing Christians (though our belief systems range from Catholic to Charismatic to wandering pilgrim), and we all share the same neighbors and the same courtyard. We are committed (albeit at varying levels) to this community and therefore to each other. We meet together once a month to spend time together, and almost all of us are in a text messaging group together, so that when one of us runs out of ketchup at dinner or needs some emergency ice cream at eleven pm, we can be there for each other in our time of need. Occasionally we have meetings to discuss business, but we don't like to talk about those, as they usually make us all forget how to behave like decent human beings. We also use our group text to coordinate care and keep each other updated in more serious emergencies, like health crises, though I feel we have a long way to go when it comes to supporting each other adequately in that way. We co-parent each other's pets, and I've been dubbed the "unofficial Ark pet sitter. 
Speaking of co-parenting, some people who don't know me very well think I live with a bunch of hippies, and they probably think we all share kids and spouses and stuff. It's because I have dreadlocks and I'm a little strange. Also, not very many people are familiar with the concept of Christian cohousing communities or intentional communities. For those that have heard of them, there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding the concept. This is because the terms can mean so many things, and each community is a unique organism, so they all look drastically different. I can only speak for the Ark, though I've visited a few other communities and studied the subject some, as it's a type of ministry that called out to Dennis and I long before we had the chance to experience it for ourselves.  
The basic premise of our community is very simple on the surface, but gets more complicated as it fleshes itself out. We are an "intentionally diverse Christian cohousing community." This means that we all live in the same apartment complex and we prioritize diversity, as I said before. That's not so hard, right? One of the main requirements to being accepted into the community is a desire to participate in the community, which I recognize is a vague requirement.  Some of are content to simply share a laundry room and live in the same building, and some of us would love to eat dinner as a community a few times a week, so I guess we are diverse in that way, too. We are constantly evolving, but we all know and are looking out for each other. We agree to a certain set of guidelines when we move in, which involves things like not doing illegal drugs and participating in community events. It's not too hard, except sometimes when it is. We are all humans here, and sometimes we have to see each other at our grumpiest and sometimes we get on each others' nerves. One of the most redemptive parts of living here has been the inability to run from each other without packing up and moving away, which is a lot of work. Instead, I'm forced to stick it out until whomever is driving me crazy that week redeems his or herself (or maybe I redeem myself for the person I have wronged, because that happens, too). This is a rare gift in our society that tends to be highly mobile, isolated, and conflict-phobic (except on social media). I get to practice grace and be on the receiving end of it, too. I get to see the strength of and be inspired by people I would likely overlook in any other situation.  
I have one neighbor who not only forgave the drunk driver who ran over her, causing her to lose her right leg, but she refused to press charges and chose to share the gospel of God's grace with him, instead.  He is now clean, sober, and a leader in his community. I have another neighbor who shares my passionate for a good, fancy cheese and artisanal sourdough bread, which should never go unappreciated. Another one is so devout in her Catholic faith that I feel she might be on the path to monastic life, but for now she's using her gifts in our little community.